Everyone in this new world has a number. From 1 to 789000, that is a person's name. The Evens are the police force, the government, the rulers - the Odds are the criminals, the rebellions.
I am 987. This is my story.


9. New Clothes

I pick from the pile some clean undies, a plain white fitted t-shirt, a pair of black jeans, chestnut brown boots and a pale blue hoodie. It's the first time in my life I've worn colour and it looks great. Pearl supplies me with a hairbrush and I comb out the knots from my wet hair.

I go to tie my hair up again but Pearl stops me.

'No,' she says, 'leave it loose. It looks nice. Try something different, Amarie!'

I accept and leave my hair. It's longer than I realized, just about touching my elbows. The straightness and the mousy brown suddenly looks a whole lot better.

Tess has gone a little more wild. A bright orange sleeveless crop top, ripped emerald green skinny jeans, and black ballerina pumps. Instead of a plait, her black hair is coiled into a topknot. She's colourful and gorgeous and sexy. My outfit suddenly looks very understated.

'I've got make up too!' Pearl trills, propping up a white leather bag.

We peer inside, Tess's eyes going huge. This isn't just an outlawed pink lipstick. This is a cavern full of bright facepaint.

Tess picks up black eyeliner, black mascara, foundation and dark pink lipgloss. She applies it all flawlessly and looks even better.

I try applying blush, but it makes me look like a blushing kid and I wipe it off furiously. I can't apply make up and I probably won't ever be able to.

But Pearl insists. She decides just a little bit of black eyeliner will do for me, and it does. It enhances the grey in my eyes so instead of looking like concrete they look like smoke.

We gather up the remaining clothes and leave the shower room. Pearl chucks our old clothes down a chute for washing, then dumps the clothes she brought in her bedroom.

'Now - Mercy says she wants to see you!' she says, looking thrilled.

'Mercy Atkinson?' I ask, feeling sick.

'Yes! Come with me!' trills Pearl.

Tess and I look at each other, and follow.

She leads us further than before. Down all the empty corridors, occasionally passing other people. We pass Dan on the way. He looks at Tess, bemused, then looks at me. He looks surprised, but pleasantly so.

I blush.

Pearl leads us into a very different room from before. It's enormous and spacious, with white walls decorated with paintings, a cream carpet, black skirting boards, large cream sofas and a big black glass coffee table. The lights in the ceiling are little and in-built, dotted at regular intervals. One wall is completely made of glass, looking out over a sunny city, but nothing outside is moving. It takes me a moment to realize that it's actually an enormous picture pasted over the outside of the glass.

'I'll go and make coffee!' Pearl chirrups, and leaves the room.

We sit in awkward silence for a minute or so, before Tess breaks the quiet.

'Can you believe this?'

And we both laugh suddenly. We have been kidnapped, forced to pick new names, taken for a shower and given new clothes and make up.

It's peculiar.

Our laughter goes out after a few more minutes. It's been fifteen minutes now.

Two more minutes pass when the door opens.

Mercy Atkinson, head of the FNO, is standing there.




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